Thirty years on from the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, families living close to the site are still feeling the effects.
On April 26 1986, the No 4 reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in northern Ukraine exploded, sending a huge cloud of radioactive material into the atmosphere.
Belarus was the worst affected country, with 23 per cent of the country was contaminated with Chernobyl’s fallout, covering 32,592 square miles.
The level of contamination in the affected areas is variable depending on the rainfall patterns which deposited the radioactive material.
Nowadays, the main contaminant is Caesium-137, which has a half-life of 30 years and scientists say it will take at least ten half-lives before a radioactive substance can be regarded as safe and for some of the other less common contaminants, it will be more than 20,000 years.
Today, 85 per cent of Belarusian children are deemed to be Chernobyl victims; they carry “genetic markers” that could affect their health at any time and can be passed on to the next generation, as only 10 per cent of the genetic damage occurs in the first generation after exposure to radiation.
In a bid to help, groups of young children from Belarus visit Lancaster every summer for a dose of sunshine, good food, clean air and fun.
It’s part of a programme run by Friends of Chernobyl’s Children (FOCC) which sees around 400 youngsters visit the UK each year.
FOCC have been arranging programmes of recuperative holidays for children affected by the disaster for more than 20 years and have brought many thousands of children to the UK.
Mike Cowan, the local group coordinator, who is also the voluntary chief executive of the national charity, said: “The children are between seven and 12 years old and are not ill in themselves but many have damaged immune systems due to the exposure to the radiation.
“The charity brings needy children from the Mogilev region of Belarus, where there are nearly 40,000 young people living in contaminated settlements.
“Many of the house have no running water or sanitation and money and food can be very scarce, so they grow their food in contaminated soil.”
The group is always looking for new host families and people willing to help with the charity.
The Lancaster group is bringing 14 children across in June, with eight of these being seven-year-olds on their first visit.
The group is particularly keen to work with schools and youth organisations and are looking for help in the following areas:
* Help with provision of a minibus during the children’s visit.
* Donations of good quality second hand clothes for seven to eight-year-old children.
* Companies or businesses willing to sponsor or part sponsor a child.
* Help with providing lunches and fruit during the visit in June.
If you feel you could help in any way please contact Mike by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01524 67751.
For more information, go to www.focc.org.uk